August 8, 2013

Glasses bring girl’s world back in focus

Once upon a time, teenage girls were not clamoring to sport a pair of thick, black, oversized eyeglasses.

With the help of her new Low Vision Readers, Vanderbilt Eye Institute patient Alexis London can once again perform difficult tasks such as texting and reading. (photo by Steve Green)

Once upon a time, teenage girls were not clamoring to sport a pair of thick, black, oversized eyeglasses.

But 13-year-old Alexis London couldn’t hide her excitement; not only at a chance to wear the lenses, but to show them off.

“So what if I look like a robot?” giggles Alexis. “I can read. I can text. I will be able to do my own homework without my mom’s help.

“I think I’m going to call them my Google glasses.”

Moments after having the glasses adjusted to her face, she asked for her mother’s cell phone.

“Hey daddy I love you!!!”Alexis typed with a grin almost as bright as the lights on her new-age specs.

The reaction was just what Jeffrey Sonsino, O.D., was hoping for. Sonsino is an optometrist and director of the Center for Sight Enhancement at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

He developed the Low Vision Readers that enable Alexis to perform tasks that were deemed near impossible, like texting and reading without an oversized magnifying glass. The lighted eyeglasses, which are a relatively inexpensive piece of technology, will allow the eighth-grader to return to using textbooks instead of relying on grossly enlarged text on an iPad.

Alexis’ vision began to deteriorate after she was diagnosed last fall with an inoperable brain tumor. She has experienced a rapid decline in her eyesight over the last four months, with no vision in her right eye and only half of the visual field remaining in her left eye.

“She has really had to rely on us,” said Tammy London, Alexis’ mother. “I’m not sure how she has compensated, to be honest. But she has a great attitude and hasn’t really slowed down too much.”

As a member of the cheerleading squad, the Sycamore Middle School in Pleasant View student will be rooting for members of the Knights football and basketball teams.

“I’ve been cheering since I was 8 years old,” said Alexis. “The only things my doctor said I can’t do are stunts and gymnastic stuff.

Jeffery Sonsino, O.D., gets a hug from Alexis at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute. (photo by Steve Green)

“I love cheering,” she said. “It’s just a great feeling and I like seeing people smile. Cheering makes me smile, keeps me upbeat and happy and I get to do the same for other people.”

Sonsino is grateful he was able to be a part of making Alexis’ day. The glasses, typically sized for adults, required quite a bit of tweaking to fit the petite teen’s face. But Sonsino is most thankful for Juana “Chiqui” Goldstein, who donated the funds to cover the glasses.

“This family has been dealing with so many medical expenses with Alexis’ cancer treatments,” said Sonsino. “When I was talking about her case, I was blown away that there are wonderful people connected to Vanderbilt whose small donation can make such a huge impact.

“Looking in the mirror, she smiled with such confidence,” he said. “And getting that huge hug from her was all the thanks any provider would ever need.”